Q: My just-turned 3-year-old daughter has started biting other children in her preschool program. I put her in for three mornings a week thinking she could benefit from a group social experience, but it seems to be backfiring. She bites some other child – the same one, usually – almost every day. When it happens, her teacher separates her from the group, tries to calm her down and talks to her about what she should have done instead of biting. That’s obviously not working, and now the director is getting pressure from other parents to expel her. I don’t know why this is happening or what to do about it. She doesn’t do it during play dates when she’s one-on-one. Do you have any answers?
A: If one puts a bunch of toddlers together in a room for a sustained period of time, there’s great likelihood that one of them will begin biting. And as is the case with your daughter, the biter will usually target one or two other children.
The problem is compounded by licensing standards and/or policies that don’t permit teachers to use so-called “negative consequences,” including time-out. So when a child bites, the preschool teacher talks. And the child, in most cases, keeps right on biting. Sometimes, it’s fairly easy for an outside observer to tell that other kids in the class have “gotten in on the act.” In other words, they begin purposefully putting themselves in harm’s way. I’ve actually seen a toddler ask to be bitten.
Why is your daughter biting? I don’t have a clue other than to point out that toddlers are given to savagery at times. It’s quite possible that if your daughter hadn’t started biting, some other child would have, sooner or later. It’s also possible that if your daughter is expelled, another child in the group will pick up where she left off. Once this drama gets going in a preschool classroom, it’s difficult to stop.
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Obviously, the teacher needs to do all she can to keep your daughter away from her victim of choice. But let’s face it: That’s not very realistic. Besides, even if she were able to perform the superhuman feat of keeping villain and victim at a distance, there’s a possibility that another victim will step forward.
One solution is for the teacher to separate your daughter from the group as soon as she bites and keep her separated (in the director’s office, perhaps) until you can get to the school and take her home. In that interim, no one should talk to her about the incident, much less about what she could have done instead of biting. That’s all very well-intentioned, but it won’t solve the problem and may make it worse. You shouldn’t talk to her about the biting either. Just take her home and do as little as possible for the rest of the day. Hopefully, she would rather be with other children and will quickly get the message.
The other solution is for you to “expel” your daughter from preschool yourself. At this tender age, she’s getting all the socialization she needs during the occasional play date. Besides, researchers have failed to find any long-term benefit to toddler preschool.
Can you guess which solution I favor?